Who will save your soul?

The Chick-fil-A controversy is everywhere you look. Last week a man gave one of their employees a piece of his mind and then posted the interaction on YouTube. Being an hourly wage slave means being subjected to the whims of kooky customers, but at least it’s never boring.

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About twice a week, I see them coming from a mile away. OK, it’s only a grocery store away, but I always see them coming. They are the loveliest couple, really: polite, kind, and warm. They visit with the various employees that man each of the departments, and they notice things.

“Oh, Jennifer, did you get a haircut? It looks great! How’s your son?”

Their attention is a welcome oasis in a desert of customers who don’t see me at all. Customers who I help frequently, some up to four or five days each week, but who have no idea that I’m the same girl who has tallied their groceries for the past five years. They’ve, quite literally, never even glanced at me.

“Hey, how was your mastiff’s birthday?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Your dog, Hank. Last time you were in here you had a cake, and you said it was for a party you were having for your dog’s birthday.”

“I did? It was fine.”

*cue the uncomfortable silence*

That conversation actually took place, including the dog and the birthday and the cake and the uncomfortable silence. I’ve seen that same customer once a week, every week, for years. Meanwhile, I’m certain she couldn’t pick me out of a two person lineup, despite the fact that I have pink hair.

And that’s retail. Like every profession,1 it has its good points and bad. Want a job full of routine and certainty? One with things like meetings and one boss and set hours? Keep it moving, buddy, retail is not for you. Prefer a paycheck that comes with a side of variety, problem solving, and 300 thirty-second conversations, every day? Well, as Uncle Sam says, We Want You. But it can be a drag, being ignored by hundreds of people a day. That’s why this nice couple makes such a difference.

Sort of. Because, as sweet as these shoppers are, every interaction ends the same way: with them handing me a copy of their “illustrated religious magazine” and a promise that, if I read it, I can feel free to ask them any questions I may have.

Me, I’m OK with it, I guess. I knew it was coming. After all, I’ve seen them tooling around the store for a half an hour–plus, it ain’t my first rodeo. The other customers, though, are visibly uncomfortable. They all watch my face to see how I’ll react. Breath is momentarily held until I speak.

“Thank you so much! Have a great day!” Like Whitney Houston, those who are waiting finally exhale. Sometimes the next customer will mention the interaction I had with the couple, often praising me for my reaction.

“I like that somebody is concerned for my soul. Besides, I’m paid to be polite.”

And therein lies the naked truth about every customer interaction I have. Whether I like the person who I’m helping or not, and I frequently do, I’m paid to be nice to them.

— ∮∮∮ —

Like a lot of people, Adam Smith was mad at Chick-fil-A because its president, Dan Cathy, had recently announced that the company contributed to anti-gay Christian organizations. Also, like a lot of people, Adam Smith wanted the company to know how he felt about those contributions. So, Adam Smith decided to make a statement.

Smith visited a Chick-fil-A on August 1st, which had been dubbed by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee to be “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day”.2 Huckabee encouraged people to “affirm a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse” and to patronize their local restaurant to show their support.

Smith pulled into the drive through, video camera in hand, and let loose on the employee unfortunate enough to be tasked with helping him.

Smith: You know why I’m getting my free water, right?
Worker: No.
S: Because Chick-Fil-A is a hateful corporation.
W: I disagree. We don’t treat any of our customers differently..
S: I know, but the corporation gives money to hate groups. Hate groups. Just because people want to kiss another guy.
W: I’m staying neutral on this subject…my personal beliefs don’t belong in the workplace.
S: Yeah I believe that too, I don’t believe corporations should be giving money to hateful groups.. I’ll take my water
W: I’m really uncomfortable that you’re videotaping this..
W: It’s my pleasure to serve you, always.
S: Oh of course, I’m glad that I can take a little bit of money from Chick-Fil-A, and maybe less money to hate groups.
W: Well we’re always happy to serve all our guests.
S: I don’t know how you live with yourself and work here. I don’t understand it. This is a horrible corporation with horrible values. You deserve better.
W: I hope you have a really nice day, and…
S: I will, I just did something really good, I feel purposeful, thank you so much.
S: Have a good day…I’m a nice guy by the way, and I’m totally heterosexual…not a gay [unintelligible] in me, I just can’t stand the hate, you know? It’s gotta stop, guys. Stand up.

I cringed while doing the copy and paste on that transcript, it makes me so uncomfortable.

Exactly what kind of statement are you making by bullying a young girl working in a fast food establishment? One who is nothing but polite, even while you launch personal attacks like “I don’t know how you live with yourself and work here.” My guess is she works there to live.

But, just like me, that employee was on the clock when Smith came through, and she did her job. Even though he was verbally coarse, and even though he was filming her without her permission, she did her job. Smith, though, won’t have to worry about doing his job any more. He’s has been fired from his job as the CFO of an Arizona-based medical device manufacturer.

While I hate to see anyone lose their job, perhaps Adam Smith has learned a lesson from this incident about holding hostage someone tasked with customer service.

As for my witnessing couple, I will continue to be polite and even take their very colorful literature. After all, I’m being paid to be pleasing. Besides, at least they remember my name.

— ∮∮∮ —

Footnotes

  1. I just called retail a “profession”, y’all! Lol! 
  2. Mike Huckabee is declaring days now, apparently 
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The Checkout Girl

The Checkout Girl is Jennifer Lemons. She’s a storyteller, comedian, and musician. If you don’t see her sitting behind her laptop, check the streets of Richmond for a dark-haired girl with a big smile running very, very slowly.

11 comments on Who will save your soul?

  1. Scott on said:

    I don’t want to get into the middle of the debate, because it really has distracted from a lot of other issues, but I do have my own opinion on this…

    I get and agree with the point that some of them are employees and should not necessarily be allowed to use work time to espouse their personal opinions. However I will say that it is interesting how this fast food corporation freely expresses its views, while citizens have to worry about losing their jobs. What happens when citizens are so busy working for corporations that they do not have time to speak on their own opinions, and the corporations are speaking more to the point that they are the only ones heard? I think we are starting to find out now.

    Its another reason that we need the MoveToAmend.org movement. Corporations should not have the same or better free speech rights than citizens, and money should not equal political speech.

  2. Kamen Gordon on said:

    What a great take on this. +1

  3. Totally different take on such a hot button issue right now. Love your writing style Jen!

  4. Rob Sterling on said:

    @Kamen – He didn’t lose his job for expressing his opinion. He lost it for being an asshole.

  5. Rob Sterling on said:

    Sorry, that should be @Scott.

  6. It is incredible to me that Smith did this. I can understand wanting to confront someone, to vent, but to take your ire out on some poor employee is rather pathetic. It seems like he was hoping for more of a reaction, to film something more dramatic, and he didn’t get it. Kudos to the girl who had to help him!

  7. Susan on said:

    A more interesting and less “I’m doing it for the high fives” approach by Smith would have been to discuss with the employee how she felt about the situation and what her views are on stands corporations can/should take. I bet he still would have ended it by assuring the world that he doesn’t have a gay [unintelligible] in his body.

  8. Scott on said:

    “discuss with the employee how she felt about the situation and what her views are on stands corporations can/should take”

    She could not do that without the corporation firing her.

  9. Lisa Ann Setchel on said:

    I love your take on this and I’m sure there are a lot of people in the service “profession” who would appreciate it too. I was there for 22 years. I find all the hypocrisy by my people a little frustrating, but they are still my people. Love your work, as usual Jennifer.

  10. Evan Sorem on said:

    Great perspective Jennifer. Here’s a good read – IMHO – on the topic overall – http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2012/08/chick_fil_a_controversy_why_dan_cathy_s_statements_are_dangerous_.single.html.
    I think it probably would help if people would just ask themselves, what if I were the person on the other side of this conversation. But people don’t….

  11. scguthrie on said:

    Adam Smith was clearly a bully and that is clear to everyone. I also consider the “polite, kind, and warm” Christians bullies, albeit insidious and probably even more hurtful in the long run.

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